UK women: Linnae Harper's homecoming equals career high and a win over Depaul, 96-85

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2013 

Kentucky DePaul Basketball

Linnae Harper eyed a free throw during the second half. The freshman scored 18 points in 18 minutes of play and grabbed five rebounds.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — AP

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CHICAGO — Instead of the solo show that was Jennifer O'Neill's school-record night against Baylor last out, Kentucky opted to treat its victory at DePaul as more of a group project.

The fifth-ranked Cats had five players in double figures, including eight players with eight or more points and seven players with three-plus rebounds in the 96-85 win at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

"Tonight we needed a balanced game from all 10 players," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said after his team won its 10th straight to start the season and remain unbeaten. "Everybody had to play hard and play tough."

Playing without senior starting forward DeNesha Stallworth, who will be out 3-4 weeks with a knee injury, Kentucky was still able to shoot a season-best 55.9 percent for the game, including 61.5 percent in the second half.

The Cats' bench outscored DePaul's bench 45-6, including 28-0 in the second half.

"Our players found a way and upped their energy in the second half and found a way to get the victory," Mitchell said.

If Kentucky seemed a little sluggish to start the game, blame Baylor. Less than a week ago, the two teams battled for four overtimes and set an NCAA record for combined scoring.

Mitchell worried about the Baylor hangover.

Before UK's final non-conference road game of the season, Mitchell had a message for his players: "It was a great victory and you have to find some way, somehow to put it behind you still."

Every place he went around Lexington, people would stop him to talk about the big win at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

"I was concerned the rest of the community might not let us move on," he said. "It was what it was. We just knew what we had to do tonight."

O'Neill didn't exactly replicate her program scoring record of 43 points against the Bears, but another UK guard, Chicago native Linnae Harper, had a career night with 18 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

Samarie Walker added 13 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky, which outrebounded the Demons 44-23, including 19-4 on putbacks.

That stat was especially frustrating for DePaul Coach Doug Bruno.

"We came out here to beat Kentucky and not just play with Kentucky," he said. "We got killed on the boards by a team that last time I looked around, has players the same size as we do."

Kastine Evans added 14 points and six rebounds. O'Neill finished with 12 points and five assists in the victory, but 10 of those points were from the free throw line.

With the win, UK moved to 10-0 and is one win shy of tying the fastest start in school history, which was 11-0 in 2009-10.

While Kentucky had a season-high shooting percentage, Mitchell was displeased that his team didn't do much to deter the Demons, who hit 50 percent from the field, a high for a Cats opponent this season.

DePaul (4-3), which fell behind 27-2 at Rupp Arena last season, was the aggressor this time around, hitting 56.7 percent from the field in the first half and grabbing an 11-point lead midway through on three straight three-pointers.

But Kentucky chipped away at that lead and cut it to three points five different times before the Demons used another surge to advance their lead to seven again, 42-35, on Brittany Hrynko's three-pointer from the Magnificent Mile.

Hrynko had a game-high 20 points. Megan Rogowski added 19 points, including 13 in the first half.

UK wasn't finished yet, scoring the final seven points of the break, five of those from Bria Goss, to even it up 44-44 at halftime.

It was a frustrating stretch for Bruno, as was the first four minutes of the second half.

"I'm not really pleased with tonight's effort in the big picture," the DePaul coach said. "We have to play with intelligence; we didn't. We have to defend; we didn't."

In a back-and-forth second half, Kentucky was able to use a 10-3 run midway through to grab just enough cushion playing mostly reserves in that span.

Harper and Makayla Epps, who had 10 points and six rebounds playing out of position in place of Stallworth most of the night, had several key hustle plays in that span.

"Wasn't that fun? I'm telling you, I've been so proud of our freshmen and they've had to show some patience," Mitchell said. "It's been building for the last three weeks or so.

"They played very well in what I think was the deciding stretch."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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